Sunday, August 28, 2005

More t.A.T.u. album gubbins

I wrote a long post about two leaked album tracks and my computer died, so here I go (impossible?) again.

"Dangerous and Moving", is, in its Russian incarnation, the first single released in Russia. It appears twice on the album, firstly, the intro is track 1, and that's repeated along with the rest of the song proper at the end of the album. It's notable in that its lyrics read like a mantra of defeat. "Not Gonna Get Us" indicated the chase, this almost is a concession of defeat:

Obscales and signs, perilous and looming
Dangerous and moving, dangerous and moving

Some of the techno and torch has been toned down, the unstoppable charge forward remains, but it's still somewhat subdued. It's built upon a very 90s synth-trance keyboard line - that style is still very popular in Eastern Europe - and some slightly more modern beats, but underneath that, there are some "actual" instruments that give the song's defeatism away. When the big synths are playing, they're running and making ground and getting away. When they cut out, it's as if the protesters, the chasers and the naysayers are getting close and the story's going to end. Which is appropriate for an album closer or a cliffhanger, no?

Even for t.A.T.u. the vocals are particularly strangulated and urgent, even when set against such an abrasive backing as they are here. The closest sonic relative of the non-techno parts of this song would be Garbage's "You Look So Fine", well, its outro anyway, particularly in the sludgy guitars that coat the whole thing in death three minutes in, and there's a thematic link - in both songs, even as the lyrics declare that everything's going to continue against the struggle, the music, the melody indicates that it's a hopeless cause. Lena and Yulia can get past every obstacle thrown at them in their narrative (and this is a fantastic continuation of their script), but there will always be more, and there's an air of futility in the struggle, particularly as the song fades out bleakly. It's a definite winner.

Also a winner is track three, "Cosmos (Outer Space)" which starts out sounding like "30 Minutes" off the first album, but develops into a muscular, bassy prowl, with some fantastic growled vocals. I could easily be confusing the t.A.T.u. lasses' attempts to get around unnatural English sounds with passion. Like "30 Minutes" and also "Clowns", the lyrics are gibberish - rudimentary ESL rhymes ("fly away/time machine" indeed), but it's extraordinarily felt gibberish all the same. This song was originally only going to be in Russian, and a lot of the fansites seemed surprised it's popped up as an English version.

The flow reminds me a bit of "We Didn't Start The Fire" of all things. It's delivered with more than enough charm to make even ME who doubted how many permutations of the running away from the nebulous people trying to break up our duo would be workable as pop songs, realise that, given that the essence of tATu isn't lesbianism, it's rebellion and forbidden love, the concept can certainly go on forever.

It culminates, splendidly, with a delightfully meaningless chorus:

Our home forever is outer space!
Let's dance on endless seas - outer space!
New hope, new destinies - outer space!
Forever we'll be in outer space, outer space!

It's definitely the most rock song they've ever done, definitely the "heaviest", as useless a measure as that is, but the vocal training Yulia's had has really paid off - she's screaming beautifully here.

The anticipation for the rest of the songs is massive in Casa EO.

t.A.T.u. - Cosmos (Outer Space)

Saturday, August 27, 2005


Go here now and hope it's still up for download because "Crazy", the new single by Andy Bell, best known as half of Erasure is a complete mindfucking stunner of the highest calibre.

It's one of these things, the word "disco" in the purest sense of the word (forgetting things like say, "Dove" or "Groovejet") hasn't been made in years, so what hack critics (hi!) mean when they say it isn't what it really is, but it's still a useful term because usage dictates definition in lexicography. Anyway, disco lately seems to have been swept up with glam. And punk. Not the much more obvious (and well-visited) bed-fellow of synth-pop. And that's what "Crazy" does. It is simply the most propulsive dance pop single I've heard this year. That bass line is dirty, throbbing and almost certainly 100% fake.

Andy's vocals - he hasn't sounded this good in years - are astonishingly emotive; uplifting and passionate. His little dramatic inflections and ad-libs are fantastic, and the strength of his voice is incredibly nuanced and rich. Synth strings come into your ear as sirens during the chorus before sweeping across much like Andy's Erasure partner Vince had a hand in it - he didn't, but he is doing one of the remixes - and basically, every ingredient necessary is present and correct.

For starters, that chorus is a gigantic fuck-off massive thing, yelled at top volume as if its words are the most important message communicable. It's got lyrical hooks everywhere that will function as clarion calls to, and on, the dancefloor if you're lucky enough to hear it near one ("When you put your hand in my hand/I go down and I go crazy for you" chief amongst them - you've got to hear it to understand, mind). There's a constant ebb between euphoria and tension. It's lovestruck, giddy and yet still cautious. It's a great pop song for the kids, made by a 40-year old man, and that thudding beat may as well be the sound of Jimmy Somerville collapsing with sheer jealousy.

It's exceptional pop music, and I don't think I've heard very many better in 2005 - I'll wait a week before declaring it the best song of the year, but the odds are very much pointing to it at present.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Some pop then? Why, yes, I think so. Despite, or because, I'm half-Polish, I tend to get a bit down on Polish pop. Frankly, it's rubbish. As I mentioned a while back, I downloaded the entirety of one of their radio top 10s (they don't have a real chart) and either 9 or 10 of them were ballads. We all know ballads are shit, don't we? Yes, indeed.

But Marta Wisniewska, aka Mandaryna probably doesn't do many ballads! Her single of last year "Here I Go Again" was a monster (left off my top 100 list because I forgot about it, as I am a complete pillock), and her new album features a song called "You Give Love A Bad Name" that I am REALLY HOPING will be a Bon Jovi cover. But since I haven't heard the album yet, and I've never written about the single "Ev'ry Night" yet, I thought I would say something.

Mandaryna - Ev'ry Night

It sort of reminds me a bit of Lena PH's smashing Laura Branigan pastiche "Delirium", so between this and the Royal Giglos remix of "Self Control", it's a shame Ms B isn't still alive to relaunch as this particular branch of pop would basically be completely suited to her and most of the crop of teeny and twenty performers are boring, so let's have a proper diva for once.

What I find most effective about "Ev'ry Night" is how deceptive its tempo is. If you took away the straightforwardly bopping groove, it would be almost ambient trip-hop in the verses. Well not quite, the melodic line is far too nimble for that, but I did a channel mix on it, and it almost floated through the speakers as a result. Of course, much of this generic (yeah right, people aren't making ENOUGH of this stuff) dance lives or dies on its chorus, and Mandaryna's got a good one, she breathes softly under it - I love the backing vocal arrangement on this - lending it a sense of cyclical complexity the simple hook wouldn't otherwise have. Love it.

Mleko - Kto Dogoni Psa

More Eastern European hip-hop, because I like it. And yes, they seem to be Polish as well.No, they're not interchangeable, this one is different. Spy-movie guitars, for a start, that sound effect I've always referred to as the "magnetic field" noise for want of knowing its actual name, and, the piece de resistance, CHILDREN CHANTING THE CHORUS. So if you've opened your heart to Schnappi at any point (for the record: liked it first few times I heard it but that was LAST YEAR, so a bit over it), there's really absolutely no excuse to not listen to this at least once. No wait, I've realised what it sounds like, it sounds like "Under The Gun" by Supreme Beings Of Leisure with rapping on it. He looks like this, sadly. But given how complex Eastern European languages sound spoken to those who don't speak them, rapping always sounds about five times more impressive still.

Okay, there's my ethnic heritage salvaged for this month.

Irina - Ala Sano Mitaan

Everyone knows the only time guitars are acceptable are when you have a pop girl singing in front of them, and you may wonder how a blog that calls itself Umlauts hasn't managed to work out how to get them to display properly (looks fine on my screen when I type 'em, but fucks up when I post 'em), so you'll just have to imagine that all the As in the first and third words have diacritical marks above them. Irina has been peddling her simple but effective schtick around Finland for some time now, check out earlier single "Vastaukset" for a milder example, but this is one of those lovely full-throttle things where you have a verse, and then a MASSIVE chorus, and then wait, you're wrong, that MASSIVE chorus is only really a pre-chorus, because there's an even bigger yowled EXTRA chorus waiting at the end with extra impassionedness and extra volume, crunchier guitars, more spastic flashes of keyboard, and then a middle-eight where Irina does some Gwen Stefani-esque vocal chord flailing (you know that vocal gurning she did on all the quiet bits of No Doubt hits - that exact effect), and it's all generally pretty smashing. I haven't found out if she's got an album, but I want it badly.

Friday, August 12, 2005

So, this TATU single then.

"All About Us" shows us a t.A.T.u. no longer bonded together physically like moths to flame and iron filings to a magnet, but more psychologically bound - the urgent "If they hurt you, they hurt me too" suggests Lena and Katina as a kind of unitary entity. No longer staring at people trapped behind a fence (of their own prejudice), blowing up carousels in jealousy or running for their lives, it's more like the lesbianism is a way of fulfilling a deep psychological requirement of companionship and allegiance rather than a physical. A tight, inseparable unit where the tie is unbreakable and it probably only vaguely goes into the realm of the sexual if the listener insists on that interpretation.

Sonically, it's a fantastic statement of intent that adds some Swedish lilt to its bleak Russian frost. Personality-wise, t.A.T.u. are absolutely at the top of their games, inhabiting this amazing narrative, even if the words, at their purely denotative level are completely banal, with sheer force and determination. The back story of fake lesbianism actually gives this distinctly non-sexual song a useful context. If anything, it establishes Lena and Yulia more like a friendship that crosses into the sexual incidentally rather than deliberately or even consistently. Inseparable, at least on record, if not in reality, if you can understand. The teenage girls will, and they know more than twenty-something amateur critics.

The middle section is absolutely arctic with chill, but that chorus has wings once you get over its relative lack of parent-disobeying, rebelling sturm und dreng. The us-against-them of "Not Gonna Get Us" is the nearest thing thematically, the musical drama seems to be most closely related to "Show Me Love", and if your first listen indicates it's a lame duck, give it another. You'll find the way each repetition of "it's all about us" has slightly different intonations, which reminds you of the amazing break after the first chorus in the still-astonishing epic of "All The Things She Said".

It's great pop. It plays with their history, while not being controlled by it. As with the Sugababes' new one, this is a pop group at the height of their powers on a personality/thematic level, and as such quality of the material almost doesn't matter. But the material's extremely good, so we all win.


Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Back to the Baltics...

Enamoured of these two tracks at the moment. Can't log into my regular webspace at the moment, but while I have more contributors than readers, YSI shall suffice.

I don't know anything about Neplagiat or St1m (yes, a 1, I'm sure), but I do know that Po Novoj! by Neplagiat featuring St1m is a quite enjoyable little bit of Latvian pop-rap. The interplay between the vocalists is cute, the melody is intensely hummable, the words are nonsense, I don't care. It reminds me of Pikku G, actually, so I initially thought it might be Estonian, but it does appear to be from Latvia.

Neplagiat - Po Novoj!

Actually from Estonia are B-Jeans, who on the strength of this song appear to be some kind of alternate-universe Baltic Ladytron, except poppier. There are vague textural similarities, anyway, at least if you're not talking about the new Ladytron album. There's definitely a bit more lightness in this, a fairly joyous (if somewhat sterile) and mostly meaningless (even in Estonian) chorus and the treated-so-they-sound-distant vocals give it an air of detached electro-cool. This stuff just doesn't travel, but it really ought to.

B-Jeans - Ei Saa